Sudden Shift: Warmer Winters

Sudden Shift: Warmer Winters

The signs of winter are few and far between at Saint Patrick’s County Park.  

The tubing hill holds just enough snow to remind you of what season we’re in.  

Michael Slattery with Saint Joseph County Parks grew up in the Chicago area in the 1970s. 

He said he’s a kid of the blizzards of 1977 and 1978, when sledding was an everyday activity. However, he’s noticed a trend: less time to enjoy winter every year. 

"It’s very frustrating,” Slattery lamented. “The tubing hill has been in use for only two days this winter.” 

Believe it or not, that’s an improvement compared to last year, when the warm weather shut down public tubing entirely at Saint Pat’s.   

“It’s very shocking,” Slattery said. “You want to be out you want to be sledding and tubing and it's not happening.” 

According to Slattery, park staff and parkgoers alike are going to have to adjust to this new normal, and winter recreation will look different than in years' past.  

That could mean keeping the canoes and kayaks out longer, using trails for hiking instead of skiing, even offering hayrides well into December.  

However, warmer winters are also bringing more bugs along for the ride. 

Eric Biddinger checks for insects and other pests in plant material for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.   

He says warmer winters mean bugs like ticks and mosquitos are sticking around longer. 

Also, some pests like army worm and bagworm are moving in too, bringing big impacts with them.  

“Bagworm can strip those plants can kill them, Biddinger explained. They're a landscape issue. Army worms are a crop issue for farmers. 

New invasive species that Michiana has never seen, like the infamous spotted lanternfly, are showing up as well. 

“We look to Pennsylvania who has had it for several years, and then try to extrapolate that over to what we should see here in Indiana,” Biddinger said. 

However, the warm winters don’t always add bugs. The wild swings of temperatures during the season can also wipe out large swaths of insects. While that might sound appealing at first, Biddinger offered some words of caution. 

“Insects are a very important part of the ecosystem,” Biddinger stated. “So having the, the changes in the climate and forcing those insects to adapt makes it hard on the insect populations, especially something as important as many of our pollinators. 

Winters are getting warmer across Michiana, but we don't know exactly what consequences that will bring. The unknown is the hardest thing for experts and leisure enthusiasts alike, not knowing what new pests will emerge, and if typical wintertime activities will ever return. 

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